Focus on Accessible Treatment, Reproductive Rights Vital for Eliminating Health Gaps, Gender Discrimination, Speakers Tell High-Level Political Forum

Speakers today voiced deep concern at the continued prevalence of the long standing � and often intersecting � challenges of gender discrimination and health inequality, as the Economic and Social Council's High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development entered the third day of its annual session.

Taking up the Forum's main task of exploring progress achieved and challenges remaining in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals, representatives took part in panel discussions focused on the agenda's health and gender equality targets. Two other panels focused on populations and countries in special situations.

Speakers participating in a discussion on Sustainable Development Goal 3 � ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages � agreed that human health was a cross-cutting issue impacting all of the 2030 Agenda's other goals and targets. Outlining some of the major global health achievements in recent decades, panellists nevertheless drew attention to remaining gaps and disparities, while some delegates emphasized that access to health services was a basic human right and urged their fellow Member States to treat the issue holistically.

Panellist Francesca Perucci, Assistant Director of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs' Statistics Division, reported that the rate of maternal death fell by 37 per cent between 2000 and 2015. While that was impressive progress, there were still 303,000 maternal deaths each year, most of which were preventable. Progress had also been rapid in child survival, but the current child mortality rate in sub-Saharan Africa was more than double the global average. Those deaths were also largely preventable, she added.

Rachel Cohen, Regional Executive Director, Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative, drew attention to one little-known target contained within Goal 3, which was related to the research and development of vaccines and medicines for communicable and non-communicable diseases that primarily affected developing countries. Stressing that the achievement of all the Goals would be impossible given the current dearth of innovation and the high costs of medicines that remained out of reach for millions of people, she called for more biomedical enterprises that put public health and patient needs at their centre and strategies that promoted collaboration in science rather than competition.

Many speakers agreed that human health � like poverty itself � was multidimensional in nature, and that it was closely connected to other issues such as gender inequality. In that regard, the representative of the Netherlands expressed concern that many women and girls around the world lacked access to the information required to make health decisions or the health services needed to effectuate their choices, emphasizing that investments in women, girls, adolescents and youth were an investment in the world's collective future.

Several delegates taking part in the panel on Sustainable Development Goal 5 � achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls � echoed that sentiment, with Denmark's representative stressing that the equivalent of two jumbo jets full of women died every day from preventable causes related to reproduction and childbirth. In that context, the representative of the children and youth major group called on Member States to expand the scope of their policies to include women and girls' sexual and reproductive rights, noting that their omission from the 2030 Agenda was perpetuating barriers to equality and empowerment.

Among a number of related and particularly timely issues spotlighted today was a recent resurgence in authoritarian forms of governance, along with its often disproportionate impact on women and minority communities.

Nalini Singh, Executive Director of Fiji Women's Rights Movement and representative of the women's major group, warned that authoritarian Governments often had a high tolerance for racism, sexism, attacks on human rights defenders and increased militarism. She also voiced concern over the forced eviction and displacement of communities under the guise of green growth and emphasized that the $21 trillion to $32 trillion currently stranded in tax havens could instead be allocated to the 2030 Agenda's implementation. In addition, she stressed that the key to Goal 5's successful implementation lay more with women's autonomous movements on the ground than with the percentage of women in parliaments or other commonly referenced measurements.

The Forum also held panels focused on small island developing States and the implementation of the Samoa Pathway, as well as the particular development needs of least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and middle-income countries.

The High-Level Political Forum will reconvene at 9 a.m. on Thursday, 13 June, to continue its work.

Panel I

The first panel of the day, titled review of implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 3 (ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages), was moderated by Nata Menabde, Executive Director, New York Office, World Health Organization (WHO). Francesca Perucci, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, provided a statistical snapshot. Panellists included Laura E. Flores, Permanent Representative of Panama to the United Nations, Member of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Executive Board, and Michael Myers, Managing Director, Rockefeller Foundation. The lead discussants were Rachel Cohen, Regional Executive Director, Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative and Marie Hauerslev, Vice-President for External Affairs, International Federation of Medical Students' Associations.

Ms. MENABDE said that the discussion would provide an opportunity to review achievements in maternal and child health, and in combating HIV and AIDS and malaria. She stressed the need for rigorous monitoring, and in that context, welcomed the voluntary national reporting currently under way. She emphasized the right of every individual to basic health services, whoever they may be and wherever they may live. Universal health care was at the centre of all efforts to achieve the other Goals, not only Goal 3. When people were healthy their families, communities and countries benefitted.

Ms. PERUCCI noted that the rate of maternal death fell by 37 per cent between 2000 and 2015, which was impressive progress, however there were still 303,000 maternal deaths each year, most of which were preventable. Even more rapid progress had been seen in child survival, although in sub-Saharan Africa the current child mortality rate was more than double the world average and most of those deaths were preventable. Progress was also made regarding the incidence of communicable diseases, including a 46 per cent reduction of HIV and AIDS, as well as an impressive reduction in tuberculosis. There was also a decline in premature deaths, although the rate was not sufficient to achieve the 2030 target.

Ms. FLORES stressed that the achievement of sustainable development was a human right and would require tackling inequalities and generating opportunities for those who had been left behind. The multidimensional aspect of poverty demonstrated the need for a holistic understanding that went beyond per capita income. Although Goal 3 dealt specifically with health, most of the other Goals could be linked to health-related targets. The data showed that there were still major challenges in the face of reduced or eliminated resources for maternal health, sexual and reproductive health, child mortality, communicable diseases and other areas. Reliable monitoring and evaluation of Goal 3 indicators were essential. To refocus actions and report on what had been achieved, Governments needed political will and to effectively address the social drivers of health. The results of those efforts would only be visible in the medium- and long-term. Among the emerging issues that would affect achievement of Goal 3 were ageing, disabilities, resistance to antimicrobial drugs, the effects of climate change, pollution, mental health and migration.

Mr. MYERS said that universal health coverage was a priority due to issues related to equality. His organization had worked to help set the political conditions for Governments to work towards universal coverage and also to meet the technical needs of countries as they sought to achieve that goal. Further, the Foundation had brought together economists who affirmed that investments in health were good for growing economies. Equality would not just happen. Intentional efforts would be required to meet the needs of neglected populations, and in that context, leaders must design programmes and execute policies to help people in need.

An important lesson learned was the need to look to the future and not simply attempt to address present challenges, he said. Climate change was affecting the nutritional content of foods, which was a major problem that would only increase if not adequately addressed. Another important lesson learned was the need to operate in a multisectoral fashion. Education, clean water and sanitation, clean energy and the environment were all important and linked with the Goal on health. There must be recognition that those were mostly political questions related to the organization and use of domestic resources.

Ms. COHEN pointed to what she described as a little-known target contained within Goal 3, which was related to the research and development of vaccines and medicines for communicable and non-communicable diseases that primarily affected developing countries. Over the past several years, consensus had emerged that the current system for financing biomedical research was broken and that it would be impossible to achieve any of the Goals given the dearth of innovation and the impossibly high costs of medicines that remained out of reach for millions of people, regardless of the income level of the country in which they lived. There must be more biomedical enterprises that put public health and patient needs at the centre of the process and strategies that promoted collaboration in science rather than competition. There must be greater commitment to delivering medicines at an affordable price so the fruits of innovation could be equitability shared. Doing so would require leadership, public funding and priority-setting.

Ms. HAUERSLEV said that, to achieve Goal 3, there must be political will, policy coherence and investments in health. Non-communicable diseases should not be considered diseases of the rich, as they affected people irrespective of socioeconomic status or age. Sexual and reproductive health rights should seek to equip young people with the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values required to enjoy their sexuality, achieve good health and prevent disease. It was nonsense to simply address one part of a person's health, which highlighted the fact that the Goals were indeed interlinked. Climate change could, in fact, be an opportunity for health, as many of the policies that promoted the mitigation of climate change could also have benefits for better health. The commercial determinants of health must be taken into account in a comprehensive manner. The current funding model was imbalanced as donor support disproportionately focused on areas such as maternal health and communicable diseases, despite the fact that non-communicable diseases were in fact leading to far more preventable deaths.

In the ensuing discussion, the representative of the Netherlands � speaking also on behalf of Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, Estonia, France, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Uruguay � pointed out that Goal 3 and Goal 5 on gender equality were inherently and strongly connected. Women, girls and adolescents continued to be subjected to discrimination, violence and harmful practices and denied the full realization of their human rights. Often they could not access the information required to make health decisions or get the health services needed to effectuate their choices. Investments in women, girls, adolescents and youth were an investment in the world's collective future.

The representative of Sierra Leone said that it was clear that global human development challenges were deeply rooted in Goal 3 on human health. He recalled that his country struggled with its maternal mortality rates, which it was trying to address through investments in health infrastructure and by increasing medical literacy. The representative of Vanuatu said that good health was a key pillar for achieving all the Goals, although small island developing States, such as his own, faced unique challenges like the lack of a holistic approach to improving health systems and a shortage of financial and human resources, as well as a lack of adequate official development assistance (ODA). The representative of Kenya said that her country was focused on providing high-quality, universal health coverage, as well as social health insurance that covered as many people as possible through reforms aimed at efficiency and responsiveness. Mobile health clinics were another key aspect of those efforts.

The representative of Indonesia stressed that the lack of available data and disaggregation of existing data were some of the key obstructions that had to be resolved in his country's efforts to achieve the 2030 Agenda. The representative of Switzerland stressed the role of the private sector in achieving Goal 3 and the need to promote research and development for vaccines and medicines for health issues that particularly affected low- and medium-income countries.

The representative of the indigenous peoples major group expressed concern about the lack of data on the health and social conditions of indigenous peoples, as well as the absence of information on programmes and services for indigenous populations' health. Health was a productive economic sector and a source of jobs, particularly for women, highlighted the representative of workers and trade unions.

Also speaking were the representatives of Azerbaijan, Cuba, Maldives, Malaysia, China, Rwanda, Algeria, Sudan and Nigeria, as well as the European Union.

A statement was also delivered by a representative of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Speakers from the children and youth, local authorities, business and industry, women, persons with disabilities, non-governmental organizations and stakeholder group on ageing major groups also participated.

Panel II

The next panel discussion, on review of implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 5 (achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls), was moderated by Craig Mokhiber, Director and Deputy for the Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). It featured two panellists: Salma Nims, Secretary General of the Commission for Women, Jordan; and Jane Sanyu Mpagi, Director of Gender and Community Development, Ministry of Gender Labour and Social Development, Uganda. It also featured two lead discussants: Nalini Singh, Executive Director, Fiji Women's Rights Movement and representative of the women's major group; and Roberto Bissio, Executive Director, Instituto del Tercer Mundo and Coordinator of Social Watch, Uruguay. Also participating was Francesca Perucci, Assistant Director of the Statistical Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

Ms. PERUCCI, introducing data outlined in the latest Secretary-General's report on progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (document E/2017/66), said the report revealed several persistent forms of discrimination against women worldwide. Stressing that data disaggregation across multiple categories � not just sex � was critical to address, she outlined recorded progress in such areas as reduction of child marriage and harmful practices, violence and abuse committed against women by an intimate partner. Other charts and graphs showed the continued undervaluing of women's unpaid work and their double burden in both family care and the world of work. Noting that women's participation in decision-making in national parliaments had only reached 23.4 per cent in 2017, she described progress in that area as very slow, and added that, in many countries surveyed, less than one third of senior Government positions were held by women.

Mr. MOKHIBER, noting that achieving Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality and the empowerment of women was not only a moral imperative for all Member States, but would also form a critical foundation for the achievement of all the other Goals, urged participants to focus on several key guiding questions. First, they should consider what progress had been made since the 2030 Agenda's adoption in ending discrimination against women and girls; second, they should discuss which policies were most critical for mainstreaming the 2030 Agenda's gender-responsive implementation; and third, they should discuss which stakeholder partnerships would be the most successful in that regard.

Ms. NIMS recalled that the achievement of Goal 5 on gender equality and the empowerment of women had been one of Jordan's earliest commitments in its consideration of the 2030 Agenda. We cannot go on with business as usual, she said, adding that the Government had realized that it could not separate issues of discrimination from other development targets. Over its history, Jordan had invested significantly in improving gender equality and women's participation in particular, but those investments had yielded few results because the focus had been on fiscal and technical solutions without including an examination of social and power structures. We cannot keep waiting for social attitudes to change, she stressed in that regard, noting that the Government had decided to enhance its anti-discrimination legislation, including by establishing new task forces on human rights and on mainstreaming gender in development planning.

Ms. MPAGI, noting that Uganda had aligned its national development plans with the 2030 Agenda in order to create an environment conducive to the implementation of its 17 Goals, said much progress had already been made on the issues covered by targets 5.2 and 5.3 � ending all forms of violence and harmful practices during the Millennium Development Goal era � especially in ending the practice of female genital mutilation. Efforts were now focused on ending child marriage and teenage pregnancy, she said, also describing initiatives aimed at improving women's economic empowerment in areas such as land tenure rights. What is not measured cannot be counted, she said, noting that Uganda had devised a set of national gender empowerment indicators to track progress in several specific areas related to gender equality. It was time to tackle the root causes of gender inequality, she stressed, calling for the involvement of a broad range of stakeholders including women's organizations.

Mr. BISSIO, agreeing with other speakers that the care system and women's unpaid care duties were among the core issues impacting women around the world, described Uruguay's 2015 decision to pass a law establishing the right to be cared. That law expanded human rights and promoted the situation of women by establishing that the responsibility to care for children, elderly people and persons with disabilities in need of care fell to the State, and establishing a monetary entitlement in that regard. Warning that the demand for more data could often be a way of postponing action, he described a 2013 report by the World Bank's private sector arm which had highlighted ways that corporations could be good to women and good to business at the same time. However, evidence had later revealed that some of the companies highlighted in that report had been bribing countries around the world, he said, emphasizing that 'women washing' can be as bad as 'greenwashing', whereby companies employ misleading marketing or unsubstantiated claims about benefits and good practices.

Ms. SINGH said that two years into the 2030 Agenda was still too early to see clear results, as structural change took time. Citing a recent resurgence of interest in strongman forms of authoritarian governance � which often had a high tolerance for racism, sexism, increased attacks on human rights defenders and increased militarism � she stressed that there was always a threat of reverting to military rule in countries that had once been under that system, such as many in the Asia-Pacific region. Describing several related challenges, including the forced eviction and displacement of communities without respect for their land rights under the guise of green growth, she went on to spotlight the need to tap into the estimated $21 trillion to $32 trillion stranded in tax havens to fund the 2030 Agenda, and said the key to Goal 5's successful implementation lay more with women's autonomous movements on the ground than with the percentage of women in parliaments or other commonly referenced measurements.

In the ensuing dialogue, many speakers agreed that gender equality and the empowerment of women was a major cross-cutting issue and spotlighted national efforts to integrate Goal 5 into national development plans, including through legislation, social programmes and the creation of public-private partnerships.

The representative of Sweden, outlining such efforts, described her country's establishment of specific gender equality indicators, efforts to enhance the collection of disaggregated data and the implementation of gender budgeting in all Government agencies. In addition, she said, work was under way to roll out local programmes specifically targeting men and boys.

The representative of Nigeria, meanwhile, joined a number of other speakers in describing national efforts to expand the public space for women. In particular, he said, Nigeria had established a Government trust fund to support women interested in holding elected office.

The representative of Maldives described her country's Gender Equality Act � which enshrined the principle of equal pay for equal work, among others � as well as its engagement with civil society aimed at amplifying the voices of women at all levels.

The representative of the United States, noting that fully empowering women and girls could be transformative as it interrupted intergenerational cycles of poverty, stressed that economies grew stronger as more women entered the labour market. In that context, the United States had launched new policies to encourage women's participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics � the STEM fields � and joined Canada in launching a new council for women entrepreneurs. In addition, it had recently announced a $50 million commitment to establish a new facility at the World Bank aimed at helping women entrepreneurs overcome barriers.

Many speakers focused their statements on national efforts to address specific challenges faced by women and girls, ranging from the double burden of unpaid care work to persistent social stigma to land tenure rights.

The representative of Chile described her country's focus on the intersection of gender and poverty, especially its establishment of policies aimed at changing mind sets about unpaid care services, and addressing the gender pay gap.

The representative of Croatia, outlining efforts to address the challenge of violence against women and girls, described a Government programme that brought together experts from across the social protection, police, education, judicial and other relevant sectors.

The representative of the children and youth major group, pointing to an absolute lack of age balance on today's panel, stressed that girls and young women around the world were fighting for their rights. Among other things, she said, the scope of national policies should be expanded to ensure the protection of women and girls' sexual and reproductive rights, whose specific omission in the 2030 Agenda was perpetuating barriers to equality and empowerment.

The representative of Denmark, striking a similar tone, emphasized that the equivalent of two jumbo jets full of women died every day from preventable causes related to reproduction and childbirth. In that context, she urged all Member States to ensure the realization of women's sexual and reproductive rights, including their right to exert control over their own bodies and freely make their own medical and reproductive decisions.

The representative of the women's major group underscored that women were not a homogenous group, emphasizing that the implementation of Goal 5 must address the challenges faced by all women and girls without exception. In that regard, she called on Governments to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of women and girls, not just in words, but in actions.

Also spotlighting the prevalence of intersecting forms of discrimination, the representative of the persons with disabilities major group said 600 million women and girls worldwide had disabilities and therefore suffered from multiple intersecting challenges. Those included violence, exploitation and the lack of justice, participation and sexual or reproductive rights � even sometimes sterilization. Citing their omission from Goal 5, she voiced her strong commitment to ensure the representation of women and girls with disabilities in the 2030 Agenda's implementation.

The representative of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) emphasized the urgency of ending all forms of discrimination against women and girls and addressing the many systemic challenges from which they suffered. Such efforts must be reflected in national policies in all areas, especially on macroeconomic and fiscal issues and efforts to address climate change. Let us all move from urgent calls to urgent actions for women and girls, she stressed.

Also participating were the representatives of Viet Nam, Romania, Philippines, China, Indonesia, Belgium, Switzerland, Ireland, Argentina, Finland, Andorra, Algeria, Australia and the European Union.

A representative of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) also spoke.

Representatives of the workers and trade unions major group, the scientific and technological community and the non-governmental organizations major group also delivered statements.

Panel III

Moderated by Penelope Beckles (Trinidad and Tobago), a discussion on eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world: taking forward the Samoa Pathway featured Shahine Robinson, Minister for Labour and Social Security, Jamaica; Tuitama Leao Talalelei Tuitama, Minister for Health, Samoa; and Maria Helena Semedo, Deputy-Director General, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Paula Vivili, Director, Public Health Division, Pacific Community, was the lead discussant.

Ms. ROBINSON said that, in Jamaica, the Sustainable Development Goals were being implemented through its Vision 2030 Jamaica national development plan, finalized in 2009. Successful implementation depended on aligning three-year medium-term socioeconomic policy frameworks with the strategic and operational plans and budgets of Government ministries, departments and agencies. The dynamism of those frameworks enabled the country to take corrective action and take lessons learned into account. She went on to identify some key ingredients that would make development work. They included high-level political commitment and bipartisan support, with transformational leadership at the core. Implementation capacity also needed to be built across all sectors, with progress regularly evaluated and reported to the public. Stakeholder engagement and effective partnerships were essential, as well, she said.

Mr. TUITAMA discussed the impact of non-communicable diseases in small island developing States in the Pacific region. The increasing costs of those diseases, growing health expenditures, high Government spending on health and slow economic growth did not bode well for the future. To address that problem, Samoa had created an environment of public awareness and support for liquor, tobacco control and food legislation. Preparations were under way for a 20 per cent tax on foods with high sugar, fat and salt content. Much, meanwhile, remained to be done at the national level to bring more high-quality food into the country. He went on to emphasize the unique challenge of climate change on Pacific island countries, which would have a significant impact on health as it affected such factors as clean air, safe drinking water, secure shelter and sufficient and healthy food. Risks from both vector and communicable diseases would increase as a result of the spread of dengue, diarrhoea and malnutrition encouraged by climate change.

Ms. SEMEDO said small island developing States, as a group, were falling behind with regard to food security and nutrition. In the Pacific, such States accounted for 7 of the 10 countries with the world's highest prevalence of obesity and diabetes. Eleven Caribbean countries meanwhile had obesity rates exceeding 30 per cent among adult women. In response, a Global Action Programme on Food Security and Nutrition in Small Island Developing States was launched last week during the FAO conference in Rome to encourage more coherent action to promote food security and nutrition. It focused on three key objectives: strengthening the enabling environment for food security and nutrition; improving the sustainability, resilience and nutrition sensitivity of food systems; and better consumer access to affordable, high-quality and safe food. While the Programme put countries in the driver's seat, success would require coordinated collaboration with different stakeholders, she said, emphasizing that the time to act was now.

Mr. VIVILI said it was a sad reality that many Pacific island countries and territories were unable to address the complications of non-communicable diseases. Capacities for such procedures as coronary artery bypass surgery, dialysis and cancer treatment were lacking. In response, a road map was developed which recognized the need for multisectoral engagement. A Pacific Non-communicable Diseases Partnership was also launched to foster closer cooperation between development partners, implementing agencies and countries. More recently, regional health ministers had called for development of a framework for monitoring and evaluating progress. The overarching principle across all those initiatives was collective accountability, he said, adding that the next steps would be aimed at ensuring consistent progress, with no country or territory being left behind.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers underscored the unique challenges faced by small island developing States in implementing the 2030 Agenda.

The representative of Nauru, speaking on behalf of the Pacific Island Developing States, said non-communicable diseases were a striking regional health challenge, standing at a nexus with food security. Welcoming the Global Action Programme, he said data collection remained a persistent challenge in mainstreaming the Sustainable Development Goals and the Samoa Pathway, given the unique economies and challenges of small island developing States.

The representative of Cabo Verde said international stakeholders were no longer targeting his country for support due to its status as a graduated small island developing State. Studies had pointed to the need for new metrics other than per-capita gross domestic product (GDP) for assessing a country's development, he said, adding that money was often not so much of a problem as capabilities and skills to accede to funding.

The representative of Maldives, speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States, said the challenges faced by small island developing States could only be addressed through strategic and genuine partnership. Their ability to overcome such issues as poverty was connected to external factors, such as global economic crisis, climate events and unfair trading practices.

The representative of the persons with disabilities major groupemphasized that such persons � who made up 15 per cent of the global population � were at significantly higher risk in the event of emergencies and disasters. Such persons must be actively involved in reconstruction efforts, she said, underscoring the benefits for the wider community.

Responding to the discussion, Ms. ROBINSON noted that non-communicable diseases had dominated today's conversations. There was work to be done to sensitize nations about importance of eating and exercising right.

Mr. TUITAMA, elaborating on his country's 20 per cent tax on foods with high sugar, fat and salt content, said talking about non-communicable diseases meant talking about lifestyle issues, and it was a Government's duty to direct the habits and lifestyles of its people when necessary.

Ms. SEMEDO spoke of FAO's focus on nutritional educational, which aimed to empower consumers by helping them understand what a balanced diet looked like and create demand for good food. She went on to emphasize the need for more reliable data, saying that was something everyone must work towards, together, in order to implement the 2030 Agenda.

Representatives of Tonga, Guyana (on behalf of the Caribbean Community) and Comoros also spoke.

Also taking the floor were representatives of the women's major group, and the children and youth major group.

Panel IV

Moderated by Swarnim Wagle, National Planning Commission, Nepal, a discussion on eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world: how it affects countries in special situations (least developed countries and landlocked developing countries), featured Amira Gornass, Chairperson, Committee on World Food Security; Farah Kabir, Country Director of Action Aid, Bangladesh; and Nikhil Seth, Executive Director, United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR). Lead discussants were Masud bin Momen (Bangladesh); Larysa Belskaya, Head, Directorate General for Multilateral Diplomacy, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Belarus; and Lazarus Kapambwe (Zambia).

Ms. GORNASS said the world was currently not on track to eradicate poverty and hunger nor to meet the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Priority should be given to rural areas, food security and building sustainable food systems. Investing in smallholder agriculture had been proven to be the most successful way to increase resilience and address climate change impacts, conflict and displacement, with small-scale food producers playing a critical role in adaptation and mitigation efforts. Such investments addressed 2030 Agenda targets, yielding higher incomes, stimulating economic growth and leading to more diversified production and healthy diets while helping to close gender gaps in agriculture. States in protracted crises deserved special attention with a focus on alleviating hunger and addressing underlying causes of food insecurity, she said, adding that the Committee on World Food Security had drafted a related framework for action.

Ms. KABIR said that the 48 least developed countries had made great gains over the past 15 years, but more needed to be done to ensure further progress. Traditional forms of aid must expand to include a greater role for the private sector. While the development agenda represented a whole society approach, policies were still dominated by men. A feminist approach must realize the full potential of all members of society, including guaranteeing women's access to decent work opportunities and ensuring that knowledge and technology transfers targeted young people. In addition, financing efforts must address tax evasion by large corporations, she said, noting that in Bangladesh $85 million had been given away in dividend tax breaks at a time when 23 per cent of the population was at risk of hunger and 43 per cent lived in poverty. To truly leave no one behind, 2030 Agenda initiatives must remove gender inequality and offer targeted programmes to reach young people.

Mr. SETH said solutions to pressing challenges were seeing results, including through transformational approaches by decision makers and stakeholder efforts at the subnational and local levels. A human-centred approach must be part of those solutions, he said, stressing the significance of currently recognized links between, for example, girls' education and poverty levels. Such a nexus approach must also recognize the benefits of investing in such links to achieve real progress and usher in a new era of smart policymaking. National planning and budgeting must include a transformational attitude and smarter policies must also be based on better data, including censuses and household surveys. A mechanism should be established to absorb all such collected data with a view to better understanding the relationship between the 2030 Agenda's goals and targets. Stakeholders must also be involved in a meaningful, value-added way.

Lead discussants then elaborated on national strategies to tackle those and related development challenges.

Mr. BIN MOMEN said efforts had been made to build resilience against climate change, disasters and conflict in least developed countries, including policies that integrated biodiversity and the sustainable management of ecosystems. Indigenous knowledge could also be a driver, he said, pointing at ongoing joint efforts in disaster risk reduction in Bangladesh. Other current approaches included viewing migration as a development enabler. Asking the United Nations to provide assistance for technology knowledge and transfers, he said efforts were ongoing to use information and communications technology to better the lives of citizens. Bangladesh was committed to the Paris Agreement on climate change and other related instruments, he said, urging development partners to meet their related financial obligations.

Ms. BELSKAYA said the development concerns of middle-income countries must be addressed as they were the only group of States that did not benefit from a coordinated approach. Most often, the classification of GDP was arbitrary and indicated simply those countries' eligibility for World Bank loans. Unfortunately, that meant that those States were left to deal with development issues on their own. Since 2016, the Group of Like-Minded Countries had been calling on the United Nations to use more data to help middle-income countries so they would not become mired in poverty. While Belarus had a low level of income inequality, other middle-income countries faced very different situations. Any poverty-reduction strategy must also focus on them. Having a stable middle-income country neighbour could also benefit States in the region, she said, calling on the United Nations to better understand challenges facing middle-income countries and to draft a mechanism to better address their concerns about achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Mr. KAPAMBWE said countries in special situations required special attention. The largest challenge was unemployment. As such, science, technology and jobs must play their important roles in addressing issues facing least developed and landlocked developing countries. For States facing extreme unemployment, the role of technology must be well defined and well used. Providing a range of examples, he said 3D printing, driverless vehicles and drone technology could remove jobs and negatively affect economies on the basis of which many States survived. Instead of slowing technology advances, discussions should be held on how best to use such technology to achieve development goals.

In the ensuing discussion, participants provided examples of how targeted approaches were unfolding in their countries. The representative of Colombia said the 2030 Agenda had addressed concerns shared by many conflict-affected States. After decades of conflict, Colombia had adopted national efforts that were focusing on dozens of 2030 Agenda targets. The representative of Sri Lanka said a recent flood and drought in his country had demonstrated the need for resilient planning approaches. In drafting effective initiatives, he said any poverty eradication effort must be truly inclusive of all stakeholders. The representative of Sudan raised several concerns, among them how food security could be improved and how data could be better used.

Mr. SETH said a $1 investment in building statistical capacity could yield $100 in return and more efforts must be made in that regard.

Ms. KABIR said the Sustainable Development Goals hinged on providing education for all.

Ms. GORNASS said inclusive policies must cover all stakeholders.

The representatives of Honduras, Belgium and Niger also participated.

Source: United Nations